Facebook is apologizing after multiple users were served disturbing autocomplete suggestions of children performing sex acts Thursday night.
Facebook seemingly issued a fix as the same search terms no longer return the results as of Friday morning.
Late Thursday night, conservative reporter and graduate student Jonah Bennett asked followers to post their results when typing “video of” into Facebook’s search bar.
In response, multiple users posted deeply disturbing screengrabs of what Facebook’s autocomplete suggested in the search bar. Typing in “video of...” returned suggestions of child abuse videos and young girls performing sex acts. At least one user found similar results when searching in Spanish using “video de...”
Facebook prohibits any sexually explicit content—not just illegal sexualized depictions of children—on its platform, and we have seen no evidence that searching the suggested terms returned videos or other content that matched the offending descriptions.
Still, Facebook has drawn criticism for disturbing search suggestions in the past, albeit in a different capacity. In September, ProPublica found Facebook enabled advertisers to target users with interest in self-selected anti-Semitic topics such as “jew hater.”Algorithms suggested ad targeting categories like “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Facebook apologized and promised to improve its monitoring of ad content.
In a statement to the Guardian, Facebook apologized for—but didn’t fully explain—the disturbing search suggestions.
“As soon as we became aware of these offensive predictions we removed them. Facebook search predictions are representative of what people may be searching for on Facebook and are not necessarily reflective of actual content on the platform,” the company said. “We do not allow sexually explicit imagery, and we are committed to keeping such content off of our site.”
We reached out to Facebook for further comment and will update if we hear back.